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Piper was in a terrible car wreck and was pronounced dead on the scene. It took a long time to clear the accident and get his body out of the car and revived, a period of about 90 minutes. In this story Piper tells of his mental experience during those 90 minutes. He details what he perceived as a trip of his soul to heaven where he spent time outside the gates of heaven.
Piper attributes his survival and return to his body to the prayers of the pastor who stopped and insisted with authorities that he pray for the man. The pastor held Piper's hand while he prayed for him, though he was already declared dead.
Piper now has a full schedule of meetings telling this story, and his book is a big seller.
Never in Heaven
The interesting thing is that his whole experience as he tells it took place outside of what he perceived as Heaven! He clearly explains that even while he stood there watching the gate, with some other souls, others went in, and some came out. But he never went through the gates. So even by his conception of Heaven, according to his story, he never saw heaven, only a gate.
Yet he persists in referring to this as his 90 minutes experience in Heaven! He still does not know what Heaven is like, even what it looks like, because he himself says he never saw it!
He does describes the gate of the place he saw. It looked to him like the description in Revelation 21. Fine, but is Piper, a preacher, unaware that Revelations 21 does not describe heaven? The Revelator clearly tells us this is the new City that will come down out of heaven to the earth. This, the writer tells us, will occur after the final judgement and the creation of a new earth, as well as a new heaven.
Piper also seems to think the gate described in Revelation is literally just a physical gate to the physical place, even in his disembodied state! He makes a point to declare that the literal gemstones are the decoration of the gate. He seems to think that even in heaven the physical gemstones would be literally stuck onto the gate of the spiritual city.
Now, if the city described in Revelation is not Heaven, but -- just as the author of revelation says -- a city on earth, then it could have some physical decorations. Though I would think something better than mere compressed silica or carbon could be found in the totally new city of God where the very presence of his Son would light the city!
I have no doubt that the experiences and the emotions he reports were experienced by Mr Piper. The conclusions he draws are another matter. We have no basis to conclude any objective information about the state of the afterlife from what he reports. What he reports is what he experienced in his interim state of consciousness while his body was thought dead, but he retained this consciousness in the spirit.
What it Tells Us
What he saw or heard we are in no position to dispute. But the fact that he experienced this does not mean his conclusions are valid. What the experience means is inconclusive, since an inherent characteristic of the situation is that we cannot verify or repeat the experience. Neither you nor I know what he experienced. But even he is not in a position to know what this tells us about objective reality.
Mr Piper assumes the experience tells him something objective about the universe. But people have dreams, often as vivid as life, when they are not near death. The mind has many powerful energies and abilities. We cannot get inside his mental experience to assist in objectively determining what it meant.
Likewise, however, neither can Mr Piper step outside his mental experience and objectively evaluate that experience to determine what it meant or why it happened. Just as I am, he is subject to the human condition. He is unable to step out of his experience to see it from a universal or absolute position. Thus we do well to confess that we are but human, and we testify to our experiences, while exercising the humility about judgement as to its ultimate meaning or cause in the external ultimate universe of God's existence.
There is a high level of commonality among the various near-death experience reports. But it is not in the similarity of the facts these individuals learn in their experience. It is rather in the diversity. If this were a true experience of the objective absolute knowledge in God's realm, why do not all people have the same insights, the same experiences, the same conclusions?
In Every Religion
People in virtually every culture and every religion report similar experiences. A notable factor in these experiences is that what they see and experience always reflects what they have believed or heard in their life or what is common in their culture. Even if they are contrarian in their own belief about it, the format and components of such experiences relate to their home culture and its expectations.
This seems to indicate the near-death experiences involve, at least in part, the categories of our minds with our cultural worldviews and previous experiences. Otherwise, the cultural and religious component would not be so consistently similar to what the individuals had available as options in their life culture.
Follows Life Culture Concepts
If it were truly an experience of some objective spiritual reality, why do the experiences, in most cases, match what they already believe? Why do such experiences tend to match the previous thought or concepts of the person? Why do Hindus have Hindu-like near-death experiences? Why do Koreans have ancestor-worship near-death experiences?
Why do westerners have experiences that seem to affirm their cultural popular religious experiences? Why do Evangelicals have evangelical-type experiences, while Roman Catholics see and talk to Mary or the saints? Why instead would Mr Piper not have had some insights to challenge his popular ideas and direct him to a more biblical worldview during his near-death experiences?
Testimony vs Conclusions
I thus do not deny nor deprecate Mr Piper's nor anyone else's report of what they experienced. I do feel, on the other hand, obligated to doubt and differ with their conclusions about what that tells us. I do feel responsible to deny that because of that experience Piper and others with similar experiences now somehow have some objective knowledge we do not have.
I continue to read such reports with fascination. I likewise continue to be very cautious about what they might mean.
See my related reviews on near-death experiences:
Death, Demons and a Second Chance
See related article on this site:
God, Heaven and Human Knowledge
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First reading notes written 13 October 2007
Finalized as a review and posted on Thoughts and Resources 23 October 2007
Last edited 17 November 2008
Posted on Amazon 2 March 2009
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.